Winter care for horses offers the following tips to keep your horses in top shape this winter:

thumb_trail2 Water: A critical element to keeping your horse healthy in winter months is ice-free water. A horse that stops drinking is more likely to suffer from impaction colic (caused by an obstruction in the bowel), or he might eat less. In winter a horse generally consumes about five to 10 gallons of water per day, and more if exercised.

Hoof care: Since short days and slippery footing hinder winter riding opportunities, you might want your farrier to pull your horse’s shoes. Winter is an ideal time to let your horse go barefoot for a couple of months of the year. In particular, pull shoes on horses living outside on icy ground, since steel shoes have no traction, and horseshoes tend to pack up with snow and ice balls, adding to the hazard of moving around. Barefoot hooves are “rested” from the weight of shoes and are able to attain a more expansible and natural state. However, a thin-soled and brittle-hoofed horse might get sore when not wearing horseshoes, so work with your farrier and veterinarian to customize this strategy according to your horse’s unique needs.

Winter Nutrition: Nutritional considerations are important to help keep your horse healthy in all seasons. Liz Scott, DVM, of Idaho Equine Hospital, points out that for every degree below freezing, your horse’s nutritional needs could increase as much as 5 to 10 percent. Provide good-quality grass hay that, through fermentation by large intestinal microbes, will generate heat from within, like an internal combustion chamber.

General issues: ensure each horse has grown a sufficient hair coat and has ample body fat to insulate against the elements. Run your hand across the rib cage to feel for insulating fat–you should barely feel the last two ribs. When possible, turn your horse out to pasture in winter to maintain muscle tone, to keep his joints moving and lubricated, and to warm himself by moving around. It is a common sight to see horses in the field standing with their haunches to the wind and snow, heads down, not moving as icicles form on their bodies. Although not absolutely necessary, shelter from wind and precipitation will keep your horse comfortable and will help him maintain body weight.

“For horses with sparse hair coats or an inadequate layer of fat,” Scott notes, “make a plan to bring those individuals into shelter and/or to provide them with blankets (that fit and are in good repair) during the worst weather.”

To promote better feed intake and utilization, have your horse’s teeth checked by your veterinarian before winter, and address dental needs to ensure adequate digestion and absorption of nutrients.

Respiratory issues can develop in horses enclosed in dank barns with still air. Ammonia from urine collects in the stalls and irritates horses’ airways, leading to coughing and potential respiratory infection. Ensure adequate ventilation if stabling your horse indoors. Protect your hay and feed storage areas from excess moisture. This minimizes the risk of mold contamination that can cause allergic respiratory problems.

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